You do not need to join a gym to increase fitness. Walking is one type of exercise that is free and available to anyone possessing a sturdy pair of shoes. It is a low-impact form of exercise that is appropriate for all age groups and levels of fitness. Whether you’ve been a couch potato for years or are the fittest person on your block, walking for 30 minutes a day can provide you with a wide range of health benefits.
Research has shown that those who walk regularly have reduced rates of heart disease, asthma, osteoporosis, obesity, type 2 diabetes, stroke and some cancers. It also improves circulation, increases bone strength and reduces cholesterol. Walking can also be one of the easiest forms of exercise to fit into your day for those who are pressed for time.
Julia Valentour, MS, an exercise physiologist and program coordinator at the American Council on Exercise (ACE) says, “Exercise doesn’t have to be hard to be effective. The recommended 30 minutes can be broken up into two 15-minute sessions or even three 10-minute sessions, making it easy to weave into a busy lifestyle.” One of the many benefits of walking is that it can be done nearly anywhere. Whether you live in the country or the city, you can always find places to walk.
Experts suggest you start slowly and gradually build up to walking farther and faster. If you have been inactive for a while, start walking three times a week at a strolling speed for 20 minutes. Slowly work your way up to five times a week for 30 minutes. You will have to walk at more than strolling speed to begin receiving health benefits. Walk fast enough to raise your heart rate, to the point where you can say a few words comfortably without gasping but are not able to sing a song.
Walking is great for overall health, but those who want to lose some weight can benefit too. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, walking at a reasonable rate of three miles per hour burns 221 calories an hour, and walking at a brisk four miles an hour burns 334 calories per hour.
There are a number of things you can do to help motivate yourself to walk regularly:
Buy a pedometer — You should aim to walk a total of 10,000 steps a day, and a pedometer can help you keep track of exactly how many steps you have taken. Most people normally walk between 3,000 and 4,000 steps a day. You’ll be amazed at how many more steps you can add to your total by adopting some simple practices to increase the amount you walk. For instance, take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk the kids to school and park farther from the entrance to shops. Compete with yourself each day to see if you can improve your performance of the day before.
Listen to music or podcasts as you walk — It’s a great way of helping the time fly and it provides a nice soundtrack to the things you pass along the way. You can even learn a new language as you walk!
Enlist a walking buddy — When two people commit to a walking regimen, neither person wants to let the other down, so it’s more difficult to skip that day’s exercise.
Find online support — StartWalkingNow.org is a free program designed by the American Heart Association to help people get started on a walking program. Their online offerings include activity and nutrition tracking, a monthly newsletter with recipes and health tips and a way of connecting with others doing the same thing.
Walking is fun and it has many health benefits and no drawbacks, so get started today on the path to better health!